E3 2001 Hands-onNHL 2002

No one else has come close to replicating the visual achievements of NHL 2001 for the PlayStation 2, and EA Sports is ready to roll out the sequel.

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NHL 2001 for the PlayStation 2 is visually impressive, but it includes a healthy amount of slowdown while skating past the benches, and the inept goalie AI makes playing the game a real bore. EA Sports is looking to rectify these problems with NHL 2002 for the PlayStation 2.

Like all previous installments in EA's NHL franchise, NHL 2002 will come loaded with gameplay modes. There will be six total, including a play now option, season play, a career mode, playoffs, shootout, and tournament. The career mode can be played for 10 consecutive seasons, and both the career and season modes can be played with multiple players. NHL 2002 will include all 30 NHL teams and 20 international squads. The rosters included in the game are accurate up until the second round of this year's playoffs. The elderly Bobby Dollas is on the Penguins' roster, and Rob Blake is a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

New to the NHL series is the breakaway cam. If a player breaks out alone toward the goal, the camera angle will suddenly shift to give you a better view of the action. We did not witness the breakaway cam in action, so it's impossible to tell how the new feature works. Another new addition to the NHL series is the EA gamestory. The gamestory singles out specific players for their achievements through the use of real-time cinemas that show players exchanging barbs with each other, while the announcers provide insight into the occurrences on the ice. NHL 2002 also includes a create-a-player mode for the first time in the series' history. You may choose hairstyles, mustaches, beards, eyes, and more.

The gameplay has remained largely unchanged from last year's game. There are still sliders that can be used to adjust anything from puck friction to game speed. The goalie AI seems to have been improved--the money goals that were prevalent in last year's game no longer work. EA Sports' NHL hockey games have been packed to the brim with gameplay control options for years now, so it comes as no surprise that NHL 2002 delivers in this department.

The frame rates have been improved considerably since last year's effort, and the game runs with a nice fluidity on both ends of the ice and, most importantly, at the red line. More animations have been added to both the coaches on the bench and the players on the ice. The brief cinemas shown between plays are far more varied in this latest edition, so it doesn't become an annoyance as quickly as it did before. The players' faces are extremely realistic. The facial texture maps are more accurate, and many star players like Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux have their facial structures modeled out of polygons. The result is a very convincing appearance that leaves no doubt as to who each player is supposed to be.

It appears as if EA Sports has addressed the majority of the problmes in last year's NHL game to produce a more refined sequel. NHL 2002 isn't scheduled for release until this fall, but it already exudes enough polish to see that it will be the hockey game to watch.

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